Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is the second book I’ve read by a Japanese writer. The first book I read was The remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro in my sophomore days in college. Perhaps I was a little too naive to understand the depth of the book which was awarded the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction (1989) that I didn’t quite enjoy the book.
With the same skepticism in mind, I grabbed a copy from the local book store and set out to read Kafka on the Shore.
My oh my, I was totally blown off.
It was a complete page-turner; I could not simply put it down and I have been consistently late to work for the last few days for staying up late at night just to put it down. I struggled though.
Kafka on the Shore (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel) is mesmerizing, ethereal and surreal that sweeps you out of your way and leaves you puzzled.
On his fifteenth birthday, Kafka Tamura (we never know his real name) runs away from his affluent motherless home in Tokyo and lives in a corner of a library in a far-off small town.
Fifteen year old Kafka is laid under the omen of his father, a renowned Tokyo sculptor who tells Kafka that he is destined to murder his father and sleep with his mother and sister. This oedipal prophesy is heavy for Kafka and the story centers around it for him.
Paralleling the story of Kafka is the story of Nakata, an old man who has the ability to talk to cats. As a child in the fourth grade, while on a mushroom-gathering outing with his class he fell into a coma after an unexplained flash of silver in the sky. When he woke up several weeks later in a military hospital, he had lost his entire memory and with it, the ability to read and write. He lives on the government subsidy and earns some commission from finding lost cats in the neighborhood.
It’s the story of fish and leeches falling from the sky and a shadowy pimp dressed as Colonel Sanders and an enlightening sex worker. It features un-aged WW I soldiers living in a forest, a transgender hemophiliac, a woman living in the past with an ability to travel through space and time and the unenlightened Hoshino, a truck driver with a ponytail, a pierced ear, and a Chunichi Dragons baseball team cap and how their lives cross each other's path.
I’m not a cat person. However, Nakata’s ability to converse with cat made me give a second thought and it is endearingly written in the book. I developed a love for the old man, Nakata’s character in the book for his innocence, truthfulness, honesty and for his inability to read and write. Of course his ability to converse with cat is exceptional. He was a perfect vehicle to execute the plots which perhaps could have been incomplete without him.
There are many questions unanswered in the book.
The theory of T.S Eliot’s Hollow Man, Oedipus complex and a lot of symbolic metaphors are sometimes ethereal and makes one ponder until one lets things pass by and sometimes make it utterly empty.
It filled my head, it consumed me but I loved it. Murakami is reported to have said that his novels are meant to be read again and again, and that it is up to the reader to devise their own thoughts and conclusions. Perhaps I need to read it again to formulate my own thoughts and venture beyond what I need to.
A brilliant book! I enjoyed it completely. And definitely its one of those 1001 books that you must read before you die. Thus, this quote from the book completely sums me up:
“The book didn't come to any conclusion, and nobody wants to read a book that doesn't have one. For me, though, having no conclusion seemed perfectly fine.”